Church of England

Momentum drops commitment to nonviolence: how can CofE clergy be permitted to join this group?

“Momentum is wholly committed to working for progressive political change through methods which are inclusive, participatory and nonviolent,” the Momentum code of ethics used to state. But not any more. The Corbynista Militants (‘extreme left’?) have decided to drop their pledge to nonviolent action “after several members argued that Momentum members should have the right to defend themselves if attacked by police or fascists”.

“Police or fascists”…

When is violence against lawful police action ever justifiable in a liberal democracy? Policing is a difficult and dangerous job at the best of times: officers frequently put their lives on the line in order to protect the public from harm. If Momentum members are arrested on a protest, is their legitimate and justifiable response now to hurl stones at heads or Molotov cocktails at feet in the hope of breaking police skulls or burning their bodies? Doesn’t contempt for law enforcement soon lead to harm? Doesn’t harm soon lead to death? What is Momentum saying here? That their members can knock the hell out of police officers if they get in your way, but please stop short of killing?    

And as for these fascists, well, we know who they mean. If any evil Tories, bigoted Brexiteers or demagogic Christians seek to impede a Momentum protest (it may, of course, include other groups, for ‘fascist’ has become a casual catch-all noun for any right-wing person who happens to disagree with the liberal-left progressive-inclusive agenda), it appears to be permissible to kick and thump them, or at least slap them around a bit. Momentum executive committee member Jill Mountford explains the rationale:

“I raised a point that if we stuck with the suggested wording, and our members were arrested for defending themselves on a protest, then we would have to consider expelling them from Momentum,” she said.

“As people who are organising and protesting, we have to have a right to defend ourselves. I cited the fight against fascists in Cable Street, the right of self-defence during the miners’ strike, the suffragettes. Those struggles showed us that while the right might accuse the left of violence, we should defend the right to defend ourselves.”

According to the Guardian, in addition to sitting on Momentum’s steering committee, Jill Mountford is “a leading supporter of the Trotskyist group the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty… who has since been kicked out of the Labour party for being associated with the AWL”.

Please read and understand that: a Momentum leader has been expelled from the Labour Party for ‘extreme left’ agitation.

No wonder the code of ethics has changed: the Militant narrative has long included the exhortation to “kick the shit” out of the fascist police and evil Tories, so if either should get in the way of a Momentum rally or protest against austerity and privatisation, its members may henceforth use violence. If any fascists take issue with Momentum’s promotion of equality, their action on climate change, opposition to Trident, or advocacy of public ownership of railways and in the energy sector, etc., etc., members may now respond with violence (at their judgment) without fear of being expelled from the socialist fraternity. A spokesperson explained: “While some of our members are pacifists, others are not and argued that in certain circumstances, such as fighting fascism in world war two or struggling against apartheid, violence is legitimate.”

The UK is manifestly not fighting German Nazis or South African racists, but Momentum clearly seek to equate ‘extreme’ Toryism or ‘right-wing’ Christianity or ‘xenophobic/racist’ Brexit (etc.) with Nazi tyranny and apartheid oppression, against which violence may be justified.

In a liberal democracy, the ballot box is the mechanism by which Christians may determine change: peaceful protest is a fundamental right, intrinsic to democracy. Quite how Church of England clergy can justify membership (and propagation of membership) of an extreme left group which is no longer pledged to nonviolent participation is unknown. Consider their response in 2013 to the rise of the extreme right:

The measure was aimed at the BNP, but note how Ben Bradshaw expressed it: the prohibition is not on clergy membership of far right and racist parties, but those which are far right or racist, ergo the Church of England forbids membership to its clergy of all far right organisations, without, of course, defining the term. It was perhaps therefore inevitable that ‘far right’ for some has come to embrace those ‘fascists’ who oppose same-sex marriage, women bishops or membership of the EU. For if racism be an abhorrent manifestation in the Church of Christ, how much more should homophobia, misogyny or europhobia be subject to ecclesiastical opprobrium?

All reasonable Christians will agree with an expression of Christian witness which seeks to denounce racism in all its forms, including in the political realm. The Church should be completely intolerant of all who seek to foment discord on the basis of people’s ethnicity or skin colour. The Early Church completely abolished the Jew-Greek division and declared all to be one in Christ Jesus, so there can be no theological rationale 2000 years later for black-brown-white segregation. To be Christian is to be blind to race: all of humanity is equal in the great plan of salvation. We are all children of God, and all equal in our sin.

But the Established Church of England is empowered by Parliament to prohibit those in Holy Orders from joining a political party or organisation which is ‘far right’, even if it is legally constituted in the United Kingdom, wins elections and conforms in every way to both UK and EU anti-discrimination law. The General Synod decreed that allegiance to a party whose policies are “incompatible with the teaching of the Church of England in relation to the equality of persons or groups of different races” would be “unbecoming and inappropriate”. So Ben Bradshaw was right to assert that all racist or discriminatory political parties are proscribed.

But what about the ‘far left’? Are Church of England clergy free to be Communists, revolutionary socialists, Militant Trotskyists or members of Momentum? Are they really free to be so even when any of those groups explicitly rejects a commitment to nonviolence? What happened to ‘Blessed are the peacemakers‘? How can CofE clergy profess to be working toward peace and reconciliation if they are simultaneously members of a political organisation which not only permits but advocates violence against fascist and police if they should seek to hinder their protests or rallies?

The anti-far-right measures agreed by the Ecclesiastical Committee were born out of a proposal in 2009 by Vasantha Gnanadoss who warned then of the potential for the BNP to grow in influence. “Passing this motion is a push that is seriously necessary,” she told Synod at that time. The peculiar thing is that no member of the Church of England clergy was or is known to be a member of the BNP. But quite a few are jumping on the Momentum bandwagon in order to get JC into No.10, and they are preaching the movement’s virtues to the whole nation.

Now that Momentum permits or advocate violence in order to attain their political objectives, is it not time for the Church of England to proscribe all far left organisations which are incompatible with the teaching of the Church of England in relation to peace, democracy and the rule of law?